The Link Between Heart Disease and Oral Hygiene

Written by Celina Duran Lozano

December 18, 2019

For most of us, we’ve had the importance of flossing drummed into us since childhood. We all know to brush for at least 2 minutes at a time twice a day, floss before bedtime, and avoid sugary treats and drinks. 

It’s just dental care 101. Everyone knows that failure to maintain these simple habits could result in periodontal disease, cavities, and all those other scary words that strike fear into the hearts of kids and adults alike. 

But recent studies suggest that there’s another issue we should be worrying about, one that can also result from improper dental care and can reach far beyond the confines of our mouths: Heart disease. 

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Yep. Heart disease has been linked to poor oral health. Believe it or not, there is research that suggests improper dental care could increase your chances of getting heart disease and dying from heart attacks and strokes. 

But is this research based on actual, indisputable scientific fact, or was it simply drummed-up to scare us into flossing?

The Research

Multiple studies have found a connection between gum disease and heart disease. Studies have also found similar connections between generally poor dental hygiene and heart disease. So, run and grab your toothbrush to prevent a heart attack!

Alright … alright. Slow down. There’s a little more to it than that.

It’s worth noting that these studies don’t claim you will get heart disease because you don’t care about your dental hygiene, nor are they suggesting that you’re increasing your risk of dying every night that you don’t brush or floss. 

In fact it may be nonsense, and we’ll get to that shortly, but first let’s suppose that these connections are genuine. How could poor dental hygiene cause heart problems?

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There have been a number of theories over the years. One of the most plausible is that the bacteria responsible for gum disease travels through the blood vessels, causing blockages, clots, and other issues.

It kind of makes sense if you don’t think about it too much. After all, plaque can form on the teeth and harden, so it could do the same thing in the blood vessels. At least, that’s the theory. Some studies have also found small amounts of oral bacteria in vessels far from the mouth. 

It has also been suggested that the body may be harming itself. In this theory, bacteria triggers an immune response and the body essentially self-destructs, triggering vascular damage that ultimately results in cardiovascular disease.

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The Truth

One of the largest studies looking at this issue was published as recently as 2018. Researchers analyzed data from over a million subjects, accounting for over 65,000 heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular episodes between them. 

After factoring age into the equation (acknowledging that dental issues are more likely to occur as patients age) they determined that there was a “moderate” correlation between tooth loss and heart disease.

In this case, tooth loss was simply a way of measuring poor dental health, essentially allowing researchers to arrive at the same conclusions as other researchers. The problem is, when they accounted for a patient’s smoking status, the correlation disappeared.

In other words, the issue here is not necessarily that gum disease triggers heart disease, but that smoking can increase the risk of both. If you take a pool of 100,000 people, you will find a correlation between gum disease and heart disease, because a large number of those will be smokers, and smoking is a major risk factor for both.

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It’s causation vs correlation, an age-old issue that has led to many misleading studies and results. Simply put, a connection is not the same thing as a cause.

As another example, it’s often said that people who abstain from drinking any alcohol have a higher mortality risk than those who drink moderate quantities. On the face of it, you could be forgiven for thinking that some alcohol is better than none and may even conclude that it has anti-cancer or anti-heart-disease properties (it may, but that’s a story for another day).

However, a large percentage of non-drinkers abstain not because they want to stay healthy, but because they’re taking medication, using drugs, have had serious alcohol/drug problems in the past, or have a medical condition. In all cases, the risk of death increases, thus skewing those results.

Smoking is the problem here, not poor dental hygiene. Smoking is one of the biggest causes of severe gum disease in the United States and it’s also responsible for a huge number of deaths connected to heart disease.

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Floss, Brush, but Don’t Worry

As discussed above, it’s still early days and more research may be released that suggests gum disease can cause heart disease directly. However, if there is such a connection, it’s likely to be very small and certainly nowhere near as problematic as recent scare-mongering headlines would have you believe.

Smoking will increase your risk of heart disease, but forgetting to floss every now and then won’t. That doesn’t mean you should be lax with regards to your dental hygiene because it is still very important for your oral health.

Relax, there’s no need to see a cardiologist if you go a day without brushing.

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If you want your teeth to be noticeably healthy, why not make them sparkle? Whitening is perfectly safe and healthy and will not impact your cardiovascular health. So, for teeth that are as white as they are healthy, pick up a SNOW Teeth Whitening System today.